Skip to main content

Beyond the espresso martini: A speakeasy mixologist teaches us all about coffee cocktails

From cinnamon agave syrup to mole bitters, these modern coffee cocktails are one-of-a-kind

The Boardroom lounge interior.
The interior of The Boardroom. bread & Butter

From the classic espresso martini to innovative coffee negroni creations, coffee and alcohol are classic combinations with endless possibilities. We spoke to Hernán Trujillo, general manager of The Boardroom, a recently opened speakeasy in Midtown Manhattan, to learn all about these coffee libations. Opened by brothers Eric and Jesse Jacobs of Fashioned Hospitality, The Boardroom is a sophisticated lounge offering a range of classic and innovative cocktails, with some of the best options being coffee-themed.

“Coffee is such a great ingredient when working with cocktails because of the amount of different flavor affinities it has,” explained Trujillo. “Through contrast and complementation, coffee can be paired with a variety of ingredients, as well as alter the flavor profile of a cocktail through a multitude of applications. Though you should always be aware of your caffeine intake.”

Why is coffee such a great cocktail ingredient?

Chocolatey, fruity, floral, or acidic, coffee beans span various tastes. Because of this wide range of flavor profiles, plenty of potential ingredient pairings exist. However, a key component of an excellent coffee cocktail recipe is the quality of the coffee bean itself.

“In my opinion, choosing the right coffee bean depends on your intention with the cocktail you are creating,” said Trujillo. “Think about which tasting notes from the coffee beans you are trying to use and how it would affect the flavor profile. Most may lean toward a more robust, rich bean with notes of chocolate, like a Robusta bean. Or maybe a bean with a smoky but still fruity and floral profile like a liberica bean. As far as preparation goes, I implore others to get as creative as possible when it comes to the application of coffee to your ingredients.”

Once the right beans are selected, the flavor profiles are next to focus on. Trujillo takes a lot of inspiration from the book The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page, stating that the book helped “bring awareness of how profiling flavors work, as well as what flavors naturally go together and contrast. Also, just understanding how a palate works.” For instance, some of Trujillo’s favorite ingredients to pair with coffee include vanilla, honey, and citrus.

How to craft the perfect coffee cocktail

“For me, every cocktail should have a story,” said Trujillo. “Whether it is historical purpose, originality, or to test uncommon waters in flavor profiles that are new to you, I believe that each cocktail should have some sort of story that really defines the thought process behind it. Having purpose or a direction for the creative notion is what separates someone tending a bar and a mixologist. More commonly accepted as we move into a new era of cocktails.”

This careful attention to storytelling in the creative process might seem intimidating for someone at home, but it’s important to keep in mind an important element  — having a sense of fun. For those at home interested in making coffee cocktails, don’t be intimidated by the scale of possible ingredients or the sheer complexity of high-quality coffee beans; the point is to realize that this process is an adventure.

“I’d suggest following recipes from others who have already tested it out and worked out the kinks,” explained Trujillo. “For the adventurous ones, I would say be as creative as you can be and try things no one has tried before, but have an intention when doing so, as this will provide the parameters necessary not to get lost when creating a cocktail.”

Spanish coffee cocktail
The Spanish Coffee cocktail at The Boardroom. Caitlin Ochs

Spanish Coffee


  • 1 1/2 ounces vanilla & cocoa bean-infused Maestro Dobel Diamante Reposado Cristalino tequila*
  • 1/2 ounce Starbucks cold brew concentrate
  • 3/4 ounce Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 ounce fresh pineapple juice
  • 1/2 ounce cinnamon agave syrup**
  • 2 dashes spiced cherry bitters (20 droplets)
  • About 1 ounce of Fever Tree Cola
  • For garnish: mint bouquet


  1. Add the first 7 ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake and strain into a highball glass filled with crushed ice.
  3. Top with Fever Tree Cola and garnish with a mint bouquet.

* Vanilla and cocoa bean infusion will take 3 days. Split 3 vanilla beans and add 3/4 cup of cocoa nibs to 1 1/2 liter bottle of Tequila. (Preferably a Cristalino).

**Cinnamon Agave Syrup is 2 parts agave nectar and 1 part water. First, steep 2 cinnamon sticks in a pot with water as you bring it to a simmer. Once simmering, add agave nectar and stir. Once mixed, turn off the heat, add the lid, and let rest until cooled. Refrigerate until ready to use.

black Manhattan cocktail on table
The Black Manhattan at The Boardroom. Caitlin Ochs

Black Manhattan


  • 1 3/4 ounces Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond Bourbon
  • 1 ounce Mr. Black Coffee Amaro
  • 1/4 ounce Carpano Antica
  • 1/4 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash mole bitters (10 droplets)
  • 1 dash saline*
  • For garnish: skewered Luxardo cherries


  1. Stir together all the ingredients except for the garnish, then strain into a Nick & Nora Glass.
  2. Garnish with skewered Luxardo cherries.

*Saline is 1 part salt and 1 part water. Bring water to boil in a pot, then add salt. Let sit on heat until fully dissolved. Let cool, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Editors' Recommendations

Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
What to mix with eggnog: The ultimate guide to this seasonal drink
It's eggnog season: Here's what to mix with the rich beverage
Egg nog

It's just not the holidays without eggnog. And eggnog is markedly better with a little booze injection. Yet, not just any spirit will do when you're looking for what to mix with eggnog.

Great with java, mixed into a nightcap, or paired up with spirits like rye whiskey, eggnog can do a lot. Just keep in mind that this is thick stuff and not something you'll want to sip all day on. Instead, it's more of a dessert treat you can enjoy in front of the fire or as you spin a holiday album just before bed.

Read more
Soju, shochu, and more: An Asian spirits guide for the intrepid imbiber
You'll definitely find a new favorite
Carte Blanche cocktail.

There are too many Asian spirits to count, but we've rounded up some of the most popular and worthwhile. From awamori to soju, this is your ultimate guide to the category. And we've even thrown in some delicious cocktail recipes for good measure.

Tired of bourbon and wine? Looking for something a little different? Go with something from afar, ready to be enjoyed neat or mixed into a drink. Our list includes commonplace sippers from places like China, Korea, and Japan.

Read more
Make fantastic cocktails: The 10 best bartending apps to fuel your inner mixologist
Want to improve your bartending? Count on one of these apps to do just that
Making a cocktail

The best bartenders at the best bars in the land make drinks so good you could plan a vacation around them. But sometimes you want to fabricate a good cocktail at home, whether you're a seasoned mixologist or just looking for a quick, easy, and tasty gin and tonic.

While there's no harm in setting yourself up with all the proper context -- from the best cocktail books to a bona fide home bar setup -- oftentimes a simple app will do. A quick download can set you up for better bartending at home, whether it's fine-tuning your technique or finally conquering that dreaded tiki cocktail recipe.

Read more